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Aug 10, 2001 04:08 AM

Help! Melanie! - questions re: wontons

  • h

Wonder if you'd know the answer to this?


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  1. You might find that type of won ton at Daimo in Pacific East Plaza in Richmond, CA. About the size of a golf ball...different types of fillings.

    1. When I first read your translation, "swallow balls", I thought you meant like the bird, swallow. Then I checked a Cantonese cookbook which said that the literal translation of won tun is "swallowing the clouds" to indicate the airy lightness of these popular dumplings.

      Round ones, I think I understand. I don't know what you mean by flat.

      The best won tun, the kind put in soup rather than deep-fried, are made from gan sui treated dough. This is lye based and the color will be darker. The dough can be rolled much thinner and it will stay firmer to the bite when boiled and served in soup. The white untreated doughs tend to fall apart and are best used only for frying.

      Finally, no need to put my name in titles or messages. I used the "hot post" feature and do read every message on the SF board eventually.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Actually I was referring to the Swallow as in the bird. Yian4 One2 was what was written on the menu, and then in parentheses, won ton. At first glance one would think it's some kind of fish ball, or squid ball dish, because of the One2 being the word used to mean balls.

        I've seen how they call it Yun2 Tun1, where Yun2 is cloud and Tun1 means to swallow. (Funny how it just so happen to became the confusing issue in English in my post)
        Then there's another way of writing that doesn't mean swallowing the clouds, but has similar pronunciation. Whun2 Tun2.(tun2 according to the dictionary but usually spoken as tun1)

        I've had what they call the Shanghai wonton soup, where the dough is white, and the wonton is round-ish. The one's that's called Yian4 One2 are sort of like a closed shiu mai. I think you've answer my question regarding the wrapping that's been treated with lye. The filling is also flavored differently from the ones made with untreated white wrapping. The place i got them from called themselves the Southern noodle place, which is why I wonder if yian4 one2 wasn't THE original won ton; or, maybe to distinguish from the original won ton. You're right in that these taste best, and don't fall apart in the soup. It seems though that most places in Chinatown now don't serve this kind of wonton.

        The flat ones are, I guess from cheap restaurants that use as little dough as possible and wrap them for deep fry and/or soup. Not a legitimate contender for won ton.

        1. re: HLing

          As you know, the Chinese love riddles, puns and the word play that the monosyllabic tonal language lends itself to. You managed to make one without even trying, and in English no less!

          Following on your mention of Chinese in Italy, I remember on my first visit to Rome at age 22 having handmade tortellini in brodo and seeing how much they looked like won tun. It's easier to see before cooking when they're still raw. The way you fold won tun (and tortellini) is to dab a bit of filling near the center, fold the square in half to make a triangle, then dab a little water on the two corners on the fold, overlap them (making a ring) and press together till they stick. When they're cooked the whole thing collapses and looks more like a ball.

          Personally, if I decide I want to make these at home, I'll usually opt for the larger sui gow (water dumplings) using the same kind of stuffing rather than wrapping won tuns. A serving of sui gow is usually 8 to 10, whereas won tuns run 12 to 18 per person. Less labor!

          Now that I think about fried won tuns, I can see the flat ones in my mind's eye. You mean the rectangular-shaped ones that are just folded over in half. I don't really care for them fried, but don't mind them fried and them dropped into hot broth (if you can get rid of the oil slick). This is called yee won tun, and the frying adds an interesting texture. We've never set out intentionally to make these. What will happen is that someone buys the wrong kind of won tun skins (not with lye) and it's no use trying to boil them, they'll just fall apart. So we'll fry 'em up and them put them in soup.

          Won tun is another one of those generic dishes that I avoid ordering unless I know the place. Link below to my current favorite.


          1. re: Melanie Wong

            So, is Yee Wun Tun like the tortilla soup?

            I'll have to try Hon's when I go to SF next time. What a nice story regarding your father's recovery!

            I usually don't order wun ton in restaurants, either. This place in Flushing, NY is worth another try, though. It's definitely a different Wun ton altogether. They look like they were shrink wrapped, the skin so tight and thin, and didn't get in the way of the filling's flavor at all. Hopefully I'll get to ask them where they're from next time I go. For now, though, they're the best I've had.

            1. re: HLing

              If you're ever in Vancouver, my Seattle friend says the Hon's there is as good as SF. The idea that a hole-in-the-wall like Hon's SF is part of a chain is still something I have a hard time getting my head around. The sui gow there are very good too, lots of shrimp in the filling.

              For yee won tun, we'd actually wrap the stuffing in the skins and fry them. Sometimes the skins are sliced into strips, deep-fried and used to garnish salads and such.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The won ton strips deep fried are a popular soup garnish on the East coast, but I don't believe I've ever seen them served in the BayArea. Used to be a number of places that served your lunch selection on a choice of rice, pan fry noodles, crispy noodles or won ton. One of my favorites was oyster beef on a bowl of won ton. Yummm.

                1. re: Jim H.

                  I can't recall seeing just the strips in soup out here either. But yee won tun is on menus.

                  The fried strips are used to top shredded chicken salad or the raw fish salad like we had at Bow Hon.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I can't imagine anything on raw fish salad but cellophane noodles...brings back fond memories of Chinese New Years with friends who had a little to-go place on Noe St many years ago. Her fish salad was a delight.

                    1. re: Jim H.

                      Yes, cellophane noodles but I've seen fish salads that have both. Plus corn flakes too for even more crunch.

          2. re: HLing

            have to agree with melanie about hon's wonton. it is extraordinary indeed.

            whenever i am in the city i will never miss ordering take out of the wontons. very special.

            their beef curry is also extra special. unlike anything i ever tasted but very delicious, flavorful down to the last bits. simply amazing. so far all the people i introduced have been hooked with this place.

            1. re: Han Lukito

              Do you get the beef curry as a rice plate?

              It's near impossible for me to go there and not get something with that incredible broth. I usually order won tun/noodles with beef brisket stew or with beef tendon.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I usually order the heavenly beef curry without the rice.

                They sell them on rice plate and it is excellent too.

                But i must warn that it is greasy and very addictive. so save up those cholestrol points beforehand.

        2. I thought I'd share my personal experience of wontons in my family. My grandmother (originally from Shanghai then moved to Taiwan after WWII) makes two types of wontons.

          The first, which she calls big wontons, are what we are used to as Shanghai style wontons. The skin is somewhat on the thick side (compared to a Japanese gyoza, for example), and the shape resembles that of a Chinese gold ingot, if you know what these look like. The wrapper is square. You put in the filling (usually minced pork with cabbage and sometimes shrimp) in the center, fold and seal the sides together (into a rectangle, not a triangle) with water. Then you fold the floppy side up, then fold the two short sides in (away from the folded up floppy side) and attach the two short sides at the corner. The result is wrapped filling in the middle, with a circle of skin flaring around it. This is probably impossible to envision with my description, but if you could picture it... The thicker skin makes this wonton hold its shape quite well in soup.

          The second type, or small wontons, are made with much thinner skin and filled with mostly meat. Again, you put the filling in the middle then kind of squeeze the wrapping together in your hand so the wonton looks like a comet with a tail or a badminton shuttlecock. After cooking, the wrapping around the "head" part tends to get all wrinkly, and the thin skin means this wonton is very floppy and the tail part would sometimes break off. I don't think I've ever seen this kind of wonton served in soup in a restaurant in the US, although that's how grandma makes them. I have, though, seen them served "dry" with spicy sauce or hot oil (hong2 you2 chao1 shou3).

          Incidentally, I have seen menus refer to wontons as yun2 tuen1 (swallowing clouds) but haven't yet seen yen4 wan2 (swallow balls). We usually write them using the 3rd representation which is pronounced huen2 tuen2 and uses 2 characters both with a food (shi2) radical and used nowhere else other than as the name of wonton. I wonder if this is a geographical difference?

          11 Replies
          1. re: Nancy Acton

            Hey Nancy! How was St. Louis?

            I looked at two Chinese cookbooks. One used the wrapping method I described earlier (the way I learned from my mom) and the other folded into a rectangle as you describe. Both authors placed this dumpling in Southern China, rather than Eastern China (Shanghai).

            The small balls (shuttlecock formed just the right mental image for me) I've not seen.

            And, for HLing's benefit, the other type of won tun wrapper that can get good results is made from an egg dough.

            1. re: Nancy Acton

              Badminton Shuttlecock! That's it! That's the kind of wun ton I had.

              I'm not sure what exactly they did, though, to make the skin so thin. When I ordered them the lady asked if I wanted them dry or with soup. She had a bowl full of them. They may have been steamed. (I really have to go back there and take another look)They were wonderful in soup, but I'm pretty sure the wun tons were already cooked. Definitely no flappy tails. So, I think at least the shape is the same as the second one in your descriptions of won tons. There must be something else about these that make them have a different name.....

              I've had hong2 you2 chao2 shou3 here, but they use the white wrapping and are flat, mostly skin, not much filling. It's probably one of those dish that each restaurant has a own version of.

              I think I see Huen2 Tuen2 and Yun2 Tun1 equally often here in NY. I've also never seen yen4 one2 until this place in Flushing. I have tasted this long ago somewhere in my childhood, though. Maybe in Seattle? Vancouver BC? Taiwan? Previous life???

              One thing about the word Yen4(swallow). I think it's a old chinese name for one of the cities. Yen4 Jin1(jin1 as the same word in Beijin) was the name but of where I don't know.

              1. re: HLing

                All this pinyin is making my head spin. In a good way, though, I think.

                Faxed Samo the kau fu characters and recipe today...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I'm not sure I know the reason you faxed samo the character and recipe for Kau fu.(?)

                  1. re: HLing

                    Because there was some disagreement on the exact written characters. I had two versions to send him. Now I'd like to know where to find a good version in San Francisco vicinity.

                2. re: HLing

                  I'm glad I was able to come up with the right imagery for you. :) And you are definitely right about Yen4 Jin1 being the ancient name of a city, but gosh darn it, I'm going to kill myself trying to remember the modern equivalent! And it is quite possible that the swallow balls name originated there. Good thinking! :)

                  1. re: Nancy Acton

                    I opened a Chinese library book tonight and it was right to the page that talked about the origin of Yian4 one2. I just about dropped the book!

                    Fou2 Zhou1 is famous for its fish balls and Yian4 one2(swalow balls)"..They're called balls, but they're more like wun ton. The uniqueness is in the skin, made from pounded pork and yam flour, which when dry is rolled up is like the brown bag paper. When ready to wrap the fillings, the "paper" is cut to size and soaked. It will then soften and be ready for use...."

                    In the book it also talked about the words wun2 tun2(the words with the food radical) being in use since the Tang dynasty, although they described the shapes as being "half moon" then. So, the author speculates that for a long time the difference between dumplings and wun ton were not clear.

                    Wun2 Tun2 when in Hong Kong are called yun2 tun1(cloud swallow) and often shrimp is added to the filling besides pork.

                    I went and got some fish balls and Yian4 One2 today. Their fish balls are almost the size of an egg, with a bit of meat filling inside. The yian4 one2 skin did not get soggy like the regualr wun tons might if left in soup too long. The skin, is the secret, indeed.

                    1. re: HLing

                      Fascinating, thanks for doing the research. Are you getting enough sleep? (g)

                      Could you ask the restaurant if the skins are indeed made from pork and yam flour? Or maybe they buy them from somewhere else?

                      I also found interesting the confusion about half moon shaped dumplings originating in the Tang dynasty. As I mentioned before, our family wraps them in the half-moon shape and called them sui gow (water dumpling). Less work and higher filling:wrapper ratio.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Oops, also meant to ask if you meant pounded pork meat or maybe lard as an ingredient.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Funny you should ask about getting enough sleep....been going around the clock...except when the hard drive needed to repair itself,(data OK, thank God!) which was when I used the time to do the research.

                          I would have asked these people had I known about the facts. I read the book hours after I was at the take-out place. In the book it said joo1(pig) jin1(essence/concentrate?) zow4(meat) with yam flour. I wasn't too sure how. The book said that it's pounded just as they pound the pork and fish to make fish balls. I'll keep my eyes open in chinese grocery stores for some rolled up paper-like wrappings. (At the counter I saw the wrapping around the meat looking like thin rice paper when dried.)

                          As for those particular words "whun2 tun2" with the food radicals, it seems that it just meant flour wrapped filling type of food. It's quite possible they were referring to the dumplings.

                          We used to have those water dumpling wrapping parties at home, too. Everyone wrap and then wait around the boiling pot for immediate consumption.

                  2. re: Nancy Acton

                    I hope this isn't too far off the subject but I had to mention a wonderful book: Swallowing Clouds by A. Zee
                    It's an intrigueing look at Chinese language, food and culture. You will learn so much if you pick this book up. Highly recommend it.